Summary: Comedians have an uncanny ability to peddle controversial conclusions and uncomfortable insights because they can claim it's "all in good fun" (see, for example, this clip and this clip). Uninhibited by those troublesome defenses, the audience can accept unsavory criticisms about the society in which they live. However, not all comedians use the stage as a venue for delivering social criticism, and in fact it is just as easy to reinforce a stereotypes or a prejudice as it is to criticize one. In this clip, Jeff Dunham draws upon a number of stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims in his ventriloquial act with "Achmed the Dead Terrorist." Here, Dunham is not deploying social criticism for humor, but is instead uncritically drawing on racist representations of Arabs or Muslims for laughs. In line with the observations detailed in an earlier post (here), the Achmed character displays an irrational anger, and in very short order, the audience learns he foolishly follows the dictates of a fundamentalist Islamic faith. The set closely tracks the format of a classic comedic duo, whereby Dunham plays the straight man and triggers Achmed's many buffoonish responses to a series of seemingly rational questions. Instructors can use the clip to encourage a discussion with students about how readily stereotypes are promoted in popular media, even when they are billed as "all in good fun." For a more detailed analysis of the comedian's role in challenging or reinforcing stereotypes, check out our post on the comedy that kills us.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist